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From Fops To Jocks: How Gay Stereotypes Are Changing Faster Than You Can Say Jack McFarland

Remember the olden days, when the stereotype of a gay man was a hairdresser or interior designer or figure skater? These days, literally within the last few weeks, these images linger but are also joined by the likes of football stars, Navy SEALs, and coal miners.

Times they are a-changin’. And we’re not just talking about shifting public attitudes or expanding civil rights. Old-school media depictions of the quintessential queer have less to do with reality than ever before. Let’s take a walk down memory lane with some old-timey stereotypes, and compare them to the new normal.

Let’s start where all conversations should, with the show Three’s Company. The series gets straight to the point, with Mr. Roper telling Jack, ”I thought all you fellas were … you know, tinkerbells.”

“Not all of us are interior decorators,” John Ritter responds. “Some of us are boxers.” The line gets a laugh. Ridiculous! A gay boxer! The very idea!

But now here we are, in 2014, and gay boxer Orlando Cruz just proposed to his boyfriend.

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Staying within the world of sitcoms, let’s take a look at Jack McFarland of Will & Grace.

We’ve known and loved plenty of Jacks. But he sure is a certain type of gay, isn’t he? Kind of a million miles away from a guy like Brett Jones, the Navy SEAL who’s writing a book about his time as a closeted man in the armed forces. Although, for all we know, Brett and Orlando are as gay as Jack in their own lives. Which, in our book, would be a good thing.

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And then there’s The IT Crowd. They devoted a whole episode about the gang going to see a gay musical called Gay. That’s very gay.

Almost as gay as a steel mill.

It’s like the whole world just went gay all of a sudden.

How exactly does Ruby Rhod fit into this analysis? He’s from the past (’90s), but he’s also a vision of what queers of the future will look like. Hyper-omni-sexual around Bruce Willis, but still saving his most aggressive harassment for women. There’s really no classification for whatever he is, and that’s the way it should be.

In researching this post, we came across this fascinating compilation of “implied gay characters in Disney and Pixar movies.” Note that we went from a flowery skunk in Bambi to the muscley jock in Paranorman (which isn’t Disney but we’ll give it a pass). Embedding is disabled but it’s definitely worth a watch.

Here’s a Bud Light commercial from the 90s that features some awful drag queens as a homophobic punch line.

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And here’s what gays look like in commercials today.

The final word on this should probably go to the wonderful Alonso Duralde, film expert, cultural critic and all-around good guy. In a conversation about stereotypes for BFD, he points out that even today, we are still the last wave of acceptable stereotypes in media. For now.

Cory Monteith And Other Allies Who’ve Gone Too Soon

cory-monteith-gleeWith the news of Cory Monteith’s cause of death, we have another reason to be sad for the young actor’s too brief life and career. We’ve also lost an ally for gay civil rights.

Before joining the cast of Glee in 2009, the Calgary native knew nothing in particular about gay folks, or musical theater. But he would learn to sing and dance, and go on to become a vocal proponent for gay rights and marriage equality, appearing at the GLAAD Awards, the HRC National Dinner with girlfriend and castmates Lea Michelle, Chris Colfer and Amber Riley, and adding his voice to the Straight But Not Narrow campaign in 2011, an effort to encourage young straight guys to show support for young gay guys. He spoke eloquently in 2012 about his own gay rights education: “Being aligned with Glee has absolutely made me more aware of it. It’s one of the defining challenges at this point in our human evolution. This is the equivalent human rights struggle for our generation. We’re going to look back 50 years from now and be shocked that this is what we’re having to deal with.”

Following, some other gay rights allies, silenced too young.

 

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Kurt Cobain, 1967-1994

Cobain was outspoken in his support of gay rights. In one of his journals, he wrote: “I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes.” In Nirvana’s “All Apologies” he sings the sentiment one step further: “Everyone is gay.”

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River Phoenix, 1970-1993

The actor and musician was a thoughtful advocate for all kinds of causes, and his portrayal of street kid Mike in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, opposite Keanu Reeves, was a brave choice back in 1991. While the film and Phoenix both became gay iconography, the young actor seemed ambivalent: “People, to some degree, do not want to let go of something you portray.”

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Heath Ledger, 1979-2008

Like Phoenix, Ledger broke ground portraying a gay lead character, Ennis Del Mar, in Brokeback Mountain. While not vocal in his political views, the fact that the up and coming actor accepted the role was hailed as brave; his performance was universally affecting. Ten years earlier, Ledger was given the choice of two roles in the Australian TV series Sweat. He chose the gay guy. Ledger and costar Jake Gyllenhaal were inducted into the Advocate Hall of Fame in 2006.

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Natasha Richardson, 1963-2009

Richardson was a member of the Redgrave acting dynasty and an advocate for people with HIV/AIDS. Her mother was Vanessa Redgrave; her father, Academy Award-winning director Tony Richardson, died of AIDS in 1991. Natasha worked with AIDS organizations here and in the UK, including Bailey House, God’s Love We Deliver, and Mothers’ Voices in the US and Aids Crisis Trust and National Aids Trust, for which she was an ambassador, in the UK. She received amfAR’s Award of Courage in November 2000.

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Anna Nicole Smith, 1967-2007

The actress, Playboy model, and widow of 89 year-old oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall was vocal in her support of gay causes, appearing in the LA Pride Parade and introducing America to flamboyant West Hollywood interior designer Bobby Trendy on her self-titled reality show on E! in 2002. And she was fierce!

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John Ritter, 1948-2003

As a straight man playing a straight man playing a sympathetic gay character on Three’s Company, Ritter was an gay rights proponent by default, but his widow Amy Yasbeck says his advocacy extended into his personal life: “When Tinky Winky was accused of being gay, John went out and bought two Tinkys. It was adorable. He supported Tinky’s lifestyle like nobody’s business. John was very liberal when it came to Tinky Winky and anybody’s lifestyle.”

 Actor Patrick Swayze is shown in an undated publicity photograph

Patrick Swayze, 1952-2009

In 1995, Swayze starred in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, and became a gay rights believer. “It was interesting to go from a narrow minded, limited heterosexual point of view into a much more open-minded point of view… For me, [To Wong Foo is] a drag queen movie that reinstates family values.”

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Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

In 2000, gay icon Whitney Houston sat down with Out magazine for her first “gay interview,” a fascinating and very candid session revealing Houston to have a history with, and appreciation for, gay people as audience, friends and colleagues. But she made it clear, if you were wondering: she wasn’t gay. “I love everybody. If I was gay, I would be proud to tell you.”

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Judy Garland, 1922-1969

A gay ally in death perhaps even more than while she was living, Garland’s exit from the stage in 1969 at the too-young age of 47 helped inspire the Stonewall Riots, a singular turning point in the fight for gay rights.

Hollywood’s Gay Marriage Conspiracy: It Worked!

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In two historic rulings Wednesday, the Supreme Court overturned DOMA based on equal protection and rendered Prop. 8 meaningless on a technicality. Why? Because SCOTUS, like the American public, was successfully mesmerized by a vast left-wing Hollywood conspiracy designed to do just that. Like vampiric Manchurian candidates, members of the high court rose up to judge as instructed, with Chief Justice Roberts and swing vote Anthony Kennedy cleverly covering their tracks by trading decisive majority votes. Brilliant.

How did it happen? Like everything important in America, it started on TV. Media watchdog GLAAD has spent more than a quarter of a century working with the entertainment industry to ensure authentic LGBT storylines. Following, an abridged list of the shows that brought us to this remarkable (and completely planned) moment in history.

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Three’s Company, 1976

By featuring Don Knotts in leisure suits and ascots in this screwball sitcom, Americans were being primed for other wacky, actually gay neighbors. Also, John Ritter (pictured above with costars Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers) played a straight guy pretending to be a gay guy, for the whole series. It was complicated.

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Soap, 1977

By hypnotizing gay character Jodie (Billy Crystal, pictured) into thinking that he was a 90-year old Jewish man in the highly-rated series finale, creator Susan Harris proved to America that gays were no worse than Jews.

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Dynasty, 1981

Gay spawn Steven Carrington (Al Corley, pictured)’s character served two important functions on the ’80s primetime soap. First, assuring Americans that there really is life after an oil rig explosion, and b) inuring them to the effects of recasting a main character, gay or otherwise but especially gay, with a less attractive actor through “plastic surgery.”

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thirtysomething, 1987

This utterly boring, masturbatory baby-boomer drama from creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick was the Trojan Horse deployed to show two gay men (David Marshall Grant, Peter Frechette, pictured) in bed together in the episode “Strangers.” Half the sponsors dropped out. Genius.

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Tales of the City, 1993

The life, times and travails of the residents of Barbary Lane in San Francisco of all places was the cover used to recapture the PBS crowd after they discovered Julia Child was a big (and really tall) homophobe.

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Will & Grace, 1998

Originally conceived by creators David Cohan and Matt Mutchnick as a German verb to describe the pacification of public officials (“And before he knew it, Joe Biden was completely willngraced”), the actual show was launched only after Wings producers turned down Matt Damon’s request for a gay-friendly cameo.

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Dawson’s Creek, 1998

By threatening his younger brother with a gun in the first season for joking he might be gay, Pacey’s older brother Doug (Dylan Neal, pictured with Kerr Smith) proved to America and the NRA that even closet cases can handle firearms. By the series finale, Doug was yelling at old people about how gay he was which was totally embarrassing for everyone but the point had been made. Left unexplained: James Van Der Beek’s weird career trajectory the last couple of years.

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Queer as Folk, 2000In a notable misstep, this classic British series of the same name was remade in America and set in Pittsburg. Popular exclusively at twink viewing parties, the show’s only lasting effect has been confusion over how Randy Harrison (pictured above) can still look like a high school student ten years later in Glee (although credited inexplicably as Chord Overstreet).

THE AMAZING RACE: ALL-STARS

The Amazing Race, 2001

The emerging reality genre audience was the target when Jerry Bruckheimer cast “life partners” Joe and Bill (pictured) on the first season of the long-running Amazing Race. Their synchronized wine toast and head-turn in the opening credits paved the way for “married” couple Reichen and Chip to win the race three seasons later. The season 4 couple had rejected the label “life partners” and suggested “married,” though they legally weren’t. Bruckheimer and CBS chief Les Moonves went along. All part of the plan.

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Desperate Housewives, 2004

Gay couple Bob and Lee moved onto Wisteria Lane during the 4th season. Though neither bore any resemblance to Don Knotts, Tuc Watkins (pictured with Kevin Rahm) may have sported a cravat once in Season 7.

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Brothers and Sisters, 2006

In this ABC Housewives companion, producer Greg Berlanti cleared up any lingering doubts that gay couples (“brother” Matthew Rhys and boyfriend Luke Macfarlane, pictured) could be irrational, petulant and dogs. That’s a good thing, right? Also, they get married in Season 2.

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Modern Family, 2009

From Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, see above. And replace “dogs” with “neutered,” proving there are all kinds of gays, people, and no, you might not want to hang out with all of them. And that is a good thing.

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Spartacus, 2010

“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” This homoerotic blood-and-sand cabler set the manscaping trend in motion, leading to the recent Philips Norelco “I’d f*ck me” TV spot. Wait, wrong conspiracy.

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Smash, The New Normal, Go On, 2012

All NBC series about or featuring gay characters (such as Justin Barta and Andrew Rannells in The New Normal, pictured) and relationships premiering in 2012 and canceled in 2013 just to send conspiracy theorists off the scent. I liked Smash. There, I said it!

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Behind the Candelabra, 2013

The coup de grace. This Steven Soderbergh masterpiece, with thrilling and honest portrayals by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon (pictured), just goes to show how marriage comes in many forms, for better or worse. “Why do I love you? I love you not only for what you are but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself but for what you are making of me.”